Like the neighbors I rarely see until July, bats are making their appearances during the drawn-out summer evenings here in the Northwest. Flitting in the dusk, these nocturnal and flying mammals that use ultrasonic calls outside of our hearing range inhabit a world quite separate from mine. But Bats Northwest, an education and conservation group of bat aficionados, is here to bridge that gap through summertime bat walks at Green Lake, and there's one this Monday, July 28, at 8 p.m.
I went to one earlier this month. Not really a walk, this friendly and informative conversation about bats got under way at a picnic table near the Bathhouse Theater. The lake is a bat magnet: It attracts the bugs that bats like to eat, and some bats can skim along the water to take an in-flight drink. A dozen or so people showed up, a third of them kids — though all but one child drifted off during the conversation portion of the evening, despite the grisly yet fascinating stuffed bat specimens at the table.
Presenters Michelle Noe and John Bassett drew from their extensive knowledge of bat physiology and ecology to answer any question lobbed their way: How many bat species live here? (Fifteen in the state of Washington, including the rare and lovely spotted bat.) Where do bats hibernate? (Some in caves in the Cascades, others underneath the shutters of Seattle houses.) Where is a good place for a bat house? (Not right next to your house.) And what about white-nose syndrome? (So far, Washington bats seem safe from the mysterious disease that has killed thousands of bats in the Northeast.)
At nightfall, we were in for a treat as the bats finally came out to fly their circuit, back and forth between the trees. The kids came running back, and Noe and Bassett turned on their bat detectors, which transform the bat calls into a frequency range audible to humans. We listened in on their hunting calls, which began with slow clicks as they scanned for things to eat, ramped up to faster clicking when a bug was detected, then maxed out with a deadly (for the bug) feeding buzz, which sounds like a zipper. Attendees lay on the grass below the bat flight path to get a good view, and one tested his own homemade bat detector.
It's a great way to while away these long evenings, and you'll leave thinking about bats, and chances are this summer, hot chocolate, too.